• Sean M. O'Connell

Falsehoods and a credibility gap

The reason for this post is that I feel compelled to speak out against outright falsehood and a disingenuous intent. Let me talk to you about a credibility gap with the release of Paul Paolatto's transit plan and the lack of one from Paul Cheng.

Lets start with Mr. Paolatto. It is easy to say I can do better than what exists for less money. Just as it is problematic to use convoluted terms lacking in simplicity, and mischaracterise the facts.

Let me begin with his again incorrect assertion that the benefits and costs of the BRT system are unknown. This is patently false. The city planners and employees who work on this project have publicly stated what the costs are, how much of a contingency (20-25%) there is and where the money is coming from. The benefits are obvious to any significant user of public transit like myself.

  • Reduced wait times and efficient transit

  • Safety for all users - pedestrians are a priority at crossings and intersections

  • Easier access to public transit and greater access for the disabled

  • Traffic easing and enhancements (i.e. restructuring or re-utilising road space)

  • Public art and optimised green spaces including street trees

  • Better lighting at bus stops and shelters

When speaking with one of the architects at a public participation meeting I offered suggestions about how to improve the bus stops. For instance a bus map on the back of each shelter, ensuring electronic tickers for arrival times, and adequate shelter from the elements at bus stops. It was a productive conversation.

However, I take issue with the idea of dismissing the BRT plan based on a rationale that its methodology is flawed and there is no source data. He asserts that because city hall used a method of analysis from Toronto's Metrolinx that it works only for Toronto. When designing systems one has to start with an example, Toronto being an appropriate choice. The BRT system has not been implemented and will not have any usable data until the system has been running for at least a year. I know this even from my own work experiences in project management and analysis.

The other false argument is that declining ridership numbers in North America must mean London also must be declining. This is untrue, our ridership numbers have shown to be increasing year after year and will increase further with time as other generations grow older. The notion that Londoners taxes will increase to offset a shortfall in transit revenue is also false. This would only occur if Londoners stopped using transit in a significant way, which in reality has not been happening. One cannot make the claim that transit is chronically underfunded and then systematically under fund it according to his proposals.

He proposes that the London Transit Commission's funding should be linked to ridership numbers. This is already what happens in practice. Funding our transit system in this way has had implications which has lead to a system that was underfunded in the past. It is a policy of the status quo and that is why I will change it.

Mr. Paolatto does not have a transit plan, he never did. He expropriated the preexisting plan from the precursor to the BRT system from 2012. It is disingenuous, to tell Londoners repeatedly he can solve things single-handedly for less money and then just adopt a plan from the past to suit his purposes. I did not make any such claim. I acknowledged the valuable work that city hall employees have spent over the past 6 years by stating that I will see the existing BRT system through to completion. However I am not inflexible, as with any project there will be adjustments in details when the need does arise, however the essence of the business case will remain the same.

Practically speaking buses should not and must not be allowed to run in peak or off peak time frames with no left turns at major intersections. Traffic flow analysis is part and parcel when these Master Plans are rolled out. Queue jumping was not a good idea and this is why it was removed from the Bus Rapid Transit Master Plan. This will not improve service or adequately deal with our transit challenges. Nor is it a sound policy to subsidise taxi or Uber drivers. Frankly it is a ridiculous notion. To take money away from transit that benefits everyone and put it into the hands of the private sector. Not to mention autonomous buses. Technological changes occur over time but I for one do not feel comfortable with the technology. Nor would I purposely put bus drivers out of work and replace them with a machine. There comes a point where we must discuss if a particular technological change is truly beneficial or not.

Finally, Mr. Paolatto gives the definite impression that students are catered to by having buses on campus.

"I would recommend that buses not traverse campus...make it the responsibility of Western to help it get its students to the express bus stops." - Paul Paolatto - May 28th, blog

The transit system is for everyone and Western and Fanshawe students are major users of the transit system, they annually provide revenue to the city and it is not the responsibility of their respective campuses to provide transportation. That responsibility belongs to the city. It is true that the city is in talks with Western over how to best service the area in BRT but I suspect that it will be resolved in the months ahead.

I want Londoners to understand, you cannot piecemeal transit. The system functions as a whole and one cannot take what they like and do not like, otherwise there are consequences. I have stated before the BRT system is well thought out and analysed.

"BRT is a fraud" - Paul Cheng on radio

Regarding Mr. Cheng's policy or lack thereof. Last week on 1290 CJBK he openly stated that BRT is a fraud. I don't know how in good conscious he could say this. Everyone knows he opposes the BRT system yet he does not offer an alternative to justify his claim. Rather than state an alternative he starts speaking about the rail line and the lack of underpasses or solutions in dealing with that issue to skirt the question. The Adelaide proposed underpass is one solution that has already been received and worked on. The Richmond street rail section is unresolved as I stated in my post about the rail issue. Truth is, he doesn't have viable policies to deal with London's transit problems.

Transit issues have everything to do with capability and vision. Londoners must have a system to meet their needs. I have experience and know that projects, especially infrastructure projects must be well managed and executed properly. Carving up a project piecemeal can easily create a situation where costs become unmanageable or worse, more funding is needed because things were not done correctly the first time. My opponents have a credibility gap.

We have a plan but let's have the courage to see it through for our mutual prosperity.